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A Journalistic Love-In for The Nation Magazine

March 20, 1986|ELIZABETH MEHREN | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — I. F. Stone, a contributor, described the magazine as "one of the bright lights of American journalism" and called The Nation "a place where you could say the whole truth, all the time, and not just part of the truth."

Studs Terkel, another longtime writer for the oldest continuously published weekly in America, lauded the periodical as "the most independent-minded journal in the country, and the most durable." It has survived these 120 years, Terkel said, "because it respects the intelligence of its reader."

Abbie Hoffman, a '60s radical and fan of the magazine, said The Nation was not only an important publication, it was "the most (important), because it gives you a point of view you're not going to find if you turn on the TV or the radio or if you open up the pages of a daily newspaper."

Another loyal reader and one-time Democratic presidential candidate, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, listed the publications he reads without fail: "Jet, Ebony, Black Enterprise, Essence, The Nation, Time, Newsweek and of course the daily newspapers, USA Today, (the New York) Times, (the Washington) Post." What distinguishes the magazine, said Jackson, "is not sex or ethnicity, but ethics."

And scurrying up the steps of the 7th Regiment Armory Tuesday night, reader Bella Abzug said she was depending on The Nation "to provide the lyrics to the music for women to create a movement even bigger than before, which we will lead with others for peace, economic justice and equality."

Inside the huge Park Avenue landmark, fully 4,000 people were alternately dancing to the music of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, feasting at a giant red-white-and-blue table groaning with the toniest of gourmet picnic fare, studying portraits of famous Nation contributors, or pausing to listen to Benny Carter, Sweet Honey in the Rock or America's diva of protest, Joan Baez. "She doesn't age," a guest said in amazement, as Baez, in white silk and carrying her guitar, parted the crowd like a female, musical Moses. "How does she do it?"

"Who knew they had this many readers?" said Hoffman, soon to be 50 years old and wearing a button, "AIDS to the Contras, " he had just printed up. "This is the best subversion in the country."

It was all a little more than Victor Navasky, editor of The Nation for eight years, was prepared to cope with. Modeled after an old-fashioned political rally, and looking rather like Iowa transplanted to the East Side and packed with fashion-conscious New Yorkers, The Nation's 120th anniversary-year party was rapidly evolving into a gargantuan journalistic love-in.

'Stars on the Rise'

Said Terkel, master of ceremonies at a party hosted jointly by (among others) Bill Moyers, E. L. Doctorow, Carl Sagan, Gore Vidal, Margaret Atwood, Cesar Chavez, Mathilde Krim, I. F. Stone, James Baldwin, Kurt Vonnegut, Toni Morrison, Ring Lardner, Larry Rivers, Amy Clampitt and Arthur Miller, "This reminds me of an old spiritual, 'Oh Lord, what a morning, when the stars begin to fall.' Tonight, it's 'Oh Lord, what an evening, when the stars are on the rise.' "

"This is a surprising night for The Nation," Navasky said. "This is supposed to be a small magazine, and we are in danger of getting mass circulation--and that is worrisome." Navasky laughed, admitted that he was kidding, conceded that the growth of circulation under his leadership with publisher Hamilton Fish III from 20,000 to 70,000 was really not all that distressing, but noted, "Once you get past the point of critical mass, you get like everyone else."

Critical was the key word in that particular phrase. Launched July 6, 1865, by a group of young New York intellectuals of liberal and abolitionist persuasion, the magazine stated as its credo then that, "The Nation will not be the organ of any party, sect or body. It will, on the contrary, make an earnest effort to bring to the discussion of political and social questions a really critical spirit, and to wage war upon the vices of violence, exaggeration and misrepresentation by which so much of the political writing of the day is marred."

Not that the first issue was exactly teeming with the indignation and dialogue of opposition that would become The Nation's trademark. "The week was singularly barren of exciting events," began the first sentence of the first volume.

Momentum Picks Up

But soon the momentum was picking up. "We profess to supply opinions exactly as we have formed them, and not in the shape in which they will be likely to please or encourage or console," first editor E. L. Godkin declared in 1867.

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